We learned last week from friends nearby that D notices in our 3 km zone were being lifted. This is done by issuing an E notice to cancel the D notice. So as others received their E ntoices, we sat back to await ours - and waited - and waited. Eventually we rang Exeter DEFRA to query how it was that the boundary of the restricted area had now been rolled back to the far side of Holsworthy several miles away, but we were still stuck under form D restriction? The duty vet took some details and punched computer keys. Had we had our animals slaughtered? No! but they had been blood tested negative. He said that we should have been sent an E notice and would look into the matter for us. And today, it arrived in the post. So now, even according to DEFRA, we are now finally free of all restrictions.

Good excuse for a beer, says Rosie.

# # #

Anne in Cumbria sent us this message:

I have just spoken to David McLean the MP for Cumbria re the slaughter of animals, whose blood tests were returned negative and then have been slaughtered.
He has told me that the reason is that if a vet thinks they might have FMD or were exposed to it, even though the blood test is negative the were slaughtered as "there is an awful lot of false negative tests, so the animal is slaughtered as a preventative measure".(explanation given to David McLean) I have told him that any suspicious tests should be re-tested using the VNT method and that we believed this was Government policy, this was also confirmed from Pirbright. He has asked me to fax him all relevant details of this as he will challenge DEFRA with these facts. So, may I use the conversations you sent me from Pirbright to substantiate the facts of VNT and could you e-mail me any other information which would be useful to try to put an end to this - even more senseless slaughter!

ENDS

Our reply:

Yes, by all means use what you already have from us. I have looked back at the E-mail I sent to you on Sunday 24th June and this contains all the scientific info. needed. There isn't much else to add, except perhaps to say that the issue of "false negatives" is confused in many people's minds. Just try to get across to him that it is the first stage test, the ELISA, that can throw up 2 - 5 % false positives (note, positives!) and that these are re-tested automatically, at the lab, by the VNT which is specific and accurate to FMD - there is no expectation of "false anythings" from this second test, which is the most sensitive known.
The only "false negatives" from this testing procedure can be caused by poor sampling or storage, such that the virus dies before reaching the lab. This may have happened on isolated occasions given the sheer volume of tests carried out, but Andrew King clearly indicates that it should not be an acceptable excuse for slaughter. Samples are taken by either vets or trained professionals so there is no excuse for bad technique and the animals cannot be held liable for it. ENDS

Robert from Wellingborough has been communicating his thoughts again:

What are the animal liberation/Huntington Life Science activists making of the present slaughter? Haven't heard of them at the barricades, just when they could for once be useful as rentacrowd.

Surely the point of the Brecon Beacons outbreak is that

1.Enough sheep have been infected for the whole flock to have been infected IF it was easily transmitted.

2. Sheep have recovered from the disease to the extent that no-one knew they had had it, with no reports of individual deaths from FMD. So they had flu, so what.

So no sheep at all should be culled, or for the jobsworths, only the ones with antibodies.

Surely Mr King is aware of the risk of sheep with antibodies infecting others, ie it has never happened even in the laboratory.

ENDS

Our comment: This really encapsulates the whole Beacons situation. No-one in authority seems to have grasped the significance that blood testing has shown ONLY one hundred or so animals carrying antibodies in a flock on common grazing of four thousand sheep. Jim Scudamore said on BBC radio that " some had been found with antibodies at a high level, some at a medium level and some with no antibodies (but they could well be incubating the disease). These results showed that the disease was still present in the flocks and had not passed through, because of the levels of the antibodies."

This interpretation only serves to confirm Fred Brown's observation, that it was time J.S. took up a new job like gardening.

What the test results show is that FMD is not exactly the most contagious, most dangerous, most easily-transmitted disease known to science. If it was, it would have whipped right through the sheep flock within a matter of days, and nearly all four thousand would display antibodies on testing. Ah no, say the "experts", it isn't like that in sheep, it "ripples" through the flock a few at a time, with more individuals catching the disease as others recover.

Oh really, we said to Ben Bennet back in May (at the rally to Exeter HQ), where is the scientific evidence for that, then? He said it was "the impression" of specialists working in this field and that he would try to obtain evidence to back it up.

Despite reminders, we are still waiting for him to produce any such evidence so we frankly doubt that any exists. If this hypothesis was correct, then testing would reveal some individuals within the flock at any one time with actual disease, the live virus, and on the Beacons this is definitely not the case.

So we have J.S. stating that disease is still present in the flock when none was actually found (and you can be certain they looked hard to find it).

What these test results actually demonstrate is that FMD is not really a disease of sheep at all, it is incidental to the species and is not self-sustaining on a large scale (as stated by Paul Kitching); it simply grinds to a halt and dies out naturally, leaving some antibodies behind as evidence of its passage.

This has been observed in other countries where outbreaks have just petered out, but blood testing much later finds antibodies in a percentage of the sheep. These antibodies, as we all know, represent no threat whatsoever of re-infection and no scientific proof that re-infection can occur actually exists; it remains a hypothetical possibility only (see Ruth Watkins, Fred Brown etc). The Beacon sheep have been slaughtered to satisfy EU requirements for FMD-free status - that's all, and the slaughter has no basis in veterinary science.

For the scientific explanation, here is Ruth Watkins commenting on carrier animals:

Carrier animals cannot be shown to infect other animals in experimental conditions to simulate natural farm conditions, even when they are housed together for months and the carrier animal is stressed - given steroids etc. The only evidence that carriers can infect other animals comes from historical accounts in Europe when it was believed that a carrier animal had been imported and come into contact with unvaccinated stock and an outbreak arose- the virus was reintroduced. The evidence is circumstantial, not scientifically proven. This is a RARE occurrence and may occur in 1 in a million animals triggered it has been PRESUMED by stress (again not scientifically proven)This danger exists only for naturally infected unvaccinated animals and unvaccinated susceptible receptive animals around them. It is not at all likely that infection would occur by aerosol but by close contact eg respiratory droplets or saliva. Prof Brown explained to me that virus shed by carriers (animals which have antibodies, carriage is a phase of the infection quite distinct from the acute phase of infection whilst there is not the virus specific immune response or only a developing immune response)is complexed with neutralising antibody. This virus is not infectious and cannot infect cells for example be isolated in tissue culture. The antibody must be detached by experimental means (an un-natural phenomenon) before the virus can regain its infectivity.

Thus carrier animals who are only shedding virus from the mouth and respiratory tract (it is cleared from the rest of their body after the acute phase of infection)are shedding neutralised (non-infectious) virus and cannot be shown to be infectious. Carriers are not a significant problem.

It is true that FMD-free countries that don't practise vaccination don't want to import carriers because of the historical documentation of risk.

ENDS # # #

Some days ago we wrote to Ben Bennett at Exeter DEFRA as follows:

Another matter that is now concerning many small farmers, having survived both the disease and the contiguous cull, is the prospect of re-stocking on slaughtered premises. I have read the newsletter no. 11 which provides an outline of the procedures involved but it does not address the central issue for neighbouring farms i.e. what happens in the worst case scenario of sentinel animals contracting FMD? Is the affected farm once again declared an Infected Premises, with all that implies for neighbouring farms? Will DEFRA try to impose the already discredited contiguous cull once more?

It is important that DEFRA make a clear statement on this issue at the earliest opportunity so that the many farmers at risk will know where they stand.

I look forward to hearing from you in this regard.

ENDS

And today we have finally received his reply:

In response to your e-mail I would wish to state the following :

If sentinel animals on restocked farms were found to have FMD the premises would be defined as an Infected Premises and in these circumstances it would be necessary to assess the contiguous farms to see if culling would also need to be carried out on these premises. Far from being discredited, the contiguous cull has been demonstrated as being highly effective in the limitation of the spread of disease. Scientific opinion will vary, as always, on such matters but one opinion need not necessarily be correct merely because one agrees with its conclusions.

Yours sincerely

Ben Bennett

28.7.01

ENDS

Our comment: In asking this question, we are of course looking ahead to our own situation and the obvious implications when our neighbour is ready to restock. He will be required to put livestock on all fields that were grazed prior to foot and mouth being diagnosed, whereas from our perspective, we would require at least one empty field to be maintained at his boundary as a protective barrier. We will have much more to say on this subject to Ben Bennett very soon - and he won't like what we are going to tell him.

All for now

From Alan & Rosie